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The 1925 Quake on the Mesa


Today, June 29th, 2020 is the 95th anniversary of the disastrous earthquake that rocked the city of Santa Barbara. There was extensive damage on State Street, but the earthquake was also felt here on the Mesa as well.


At 1101 Luneta Plaza, Santa Barbara City Manager Herbert Nunn was just waking up when the big one hit at 6:42 a.m. His gripping on-the-spot report of the temblor later appeared in The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.


"At the moment of the shock I was sitting on the edge of the bed, … and was thrown upon my back. Preceding the shock there was a heavy rumbling sound similar to that of thunder, which apparently came from directly underneath. There was a barely perceptible interval between the rumbling sound and the shock. ... The [first] violent shock was followed instantaneously by a rapid vertical vibration, which I vividly remember.


"I immediately ran from my bedroom to the front lawn. ... As I stepped from the front porch …, I was thrown violently. ... My wife and the gardener, … stepping from a tiled porch to the grass ... both were thrown violently down. ... The roof was vibrating with sufficient force to break the tiles."


The Mesa lighthouse tower, built of granite, nearly collapsed on the lighthouse keeper and her family. The Morning Press wrote, "she rushed out with her family just in time to hear the light tower crash through the roof of the rooms they had left." (Our lighthouse was later replaced with a beacon.)


A couple of other Mesa residences were also severely damaged. One was the home of cowboy artist Ed Borein. His home, called La Barranca, had been built to resemble a Southwestern Pueblo. The Morning Press called it "one of the show places of the west side." It was completely destroyed. (Borein later built a frame house of a similar design, which Mesa Rats of the 1950s dubbed The Alamo.)


The largest and most spectacular home on the Mesa was severely damaged and later demolished. The 1880's home called Punta del Castillo was designed by premier Santa Barbara architect Peter J. Barber for Thomas B. Dibblee. Commonly known as "Dibblee's Castle," it had been Santa Barbara's very first estate in the modified Tuscan-villa style, according to the book Material Dreams.


The Mesa landscape was also changed forever. Castle Rock, a huge chunk of rock on the beach, which was once one of the most popular tourist destinations in Santa Barbara, had its profile greatly altered. Near the lighthouse, the quake shook loose a large piece of the cliff which crashed into the ocean. A set of stairs known as "Lovers' Nook" that led down to the beach, perhaps at Santa Cruz Boulevard, was filled with rocks. The Morning Press joked that "something must be done about it right away to guarantee the happiness of the young and amorous generation."

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